Study Guide

Dragonwings Quotes

  • Friendship

    There were groceries and herbal shops, clothing shops and laundries, halls that housed the brotherhoods or the district associations or the offices of family clans. Uncle pointed out the building of the district from which any family came and to which I could go for help. Besides that there was the Lee family building, which would help everyone who was named Lee. (2.35)

    Without their biological families allowed intact in America, Chinese immigrants formed other alliances that created systems of support in a foreign land.

    During the next year, I learned that the Company was more than a group of men wanting money. We were brothers: strangers in a strange land who had banded together for mutual help and protection. There were arguments, of course, but they were always worked out. (4.1)

    Brotherhood takes on a new meaning in the Tang people's village in the early twentieth century. The brotherhood of the Company blurs the boundary between family and friends, putting the emphasis on the protection and well being of others rather than shared blood.

    Miss Whitlaw had a smile like the Listener, She Who Hears Prayers, who refused release from the cycle of lives until all her brothers and sisters too could be freed from sin. (6.32)

    Moon Shadow's first impression of Miss Whitlaw turns out to be a fortuitous premonition, for Miss Whitlaw is a selfless friend who comes to be as close as family.

    As I lay down on my mat and pulled the blanket up about my neck, it seemed to me that if this was the case, the demoness would surely be reborn as a rich Tang woman in her next life. I even toyed with the idea that perhaps we had been close to each other in some former life – a mother and child, even. (6.134)

    Moon Shadow's hunch that he was related to Miss Whitlaw suggests that he takes an immediate liking to the landlady. This is a bit surprising, because Miss Whitlaw is the first non-Tang lady the narrator meets, and he had expected her to be pretty awful. This excerpt shows that friendship, and even family, does not need to rely on external similarities like race or gender.

    My brother and I are always happy to meet another flying enthusiast. Our brotherhood is too small to lose any one of us. Enclosed you will find some tables and diagrams that should prove of some service to you. If we can be of any further assistance to you, please let me know. (6.149)

    Moon Shadow and Windrider are not only a part of the brotherhood of the Company, but also the brotherhood of "flying [enthusiasts]," as Orville Wright writes here. These multiple forms of community build a sense of belonging for the Lees in America.

    The Company's days were filled with cheerful shouting and singing and swearing and hammering. We were putting up a new building, one made of stone and guaranteed to last a century. It was hard work, but it was exhilarating – the kind of feeling that comes from being alive and taking part in some great common enterprise. (10.127)

    The shared act of rebuilding the Tang people's village together, specifically the new Company building, reflects the sense of family Moon Shadow senses is being built between the men of the Company and himself.

    We loaded the two suitcases Miss Whitlaw had onto the wagon and drove them down to the Ferry Building. We would arrange to sell her wagon and horse for her. There was always a need for a good horse and wagon over here now with the rebuilding. The whole trip was made in a long silence. In the years we had known them, we had grown probably as close as we could to demons. (10.159)

    Like family, the Lees take care of the details of the Whitlaws' move to Oakland. Even this deep into their friendship, however, Moon Shadow speaks of them as demons, as though this were an irrefutable barrier between them.

    I had found my mountain of gold, after all, and it had not been nuggets but people who had made it up: people like the Company and the Whitlaws. I had not realized until I had left it that I had been on the mountain of gold all that time. (11.46)

    Moon Shadow realizes that the mountain of gold he had dreamed of was achieved not in a place but in people. Home is not a place but a network of people to count on.

    "I came to help," Uncle snapped. "Not because I believe in your crazy dream. Call it an old man's whim if you like." But then Uncle relented for a moment. "And we didn't come to laugh. There will be those among the Tang people who will laugh – but now they will have to laugh at all of us, for we'll share in your folly."

    "All of them, Father," I said. "All the Company came." (12.35-36)

    Uncle Bright Star lets down his pride and shows his love for Windrider when he brings the Company to make their friends' dream come true.

    And all of a sudden I saw that if life seems awfully petty most of the time, every now and then there is something noble and beautiful and almost pure that lifts us suddenly out of the pettiness and lets us share in it a little. It did not matter whether Father flew or not. It was enough that the Company had come. (12.75)

    Moon Shadow realizes that the goal of flying is not nearly as amazing as the uncalled-for support of friends. Friendship is the bigger dream that "lifts" Moon Shadow before Dragonwings even moves a propeller.

    I think the reason Uncle had originally been so strict with Father was that he thought of Father as his spiritual son. He hoped that Windrider would be everything that Uncle had once wished Black Dog to be. And like any parent with a child, Uncle was hurt and angry when Windrider did not behave as Uncle wanted. But then, with Dragonwings, Uncle came to accept the fact that he was not always right. (12.150)

    After Black Dog's death, Moon Shadow realizes that Uncle's tough love is a sign of affection. Uncle realizes that there is worse disobedience than pursuing a dream.

  • Family

    I spoke [Mother's] name into it, and all of a sudden I heard your mother singing a lullaby to you as you gradually stopped crying. You must have just been born, for I as yet had had no news of your birth.

    "You could speak to them," the Lord said.

    "No," I said. I'm afraid that I began to cry. I don't want her to feel what I feel, listening to her but not being able to touch her. Better that she shouldn't know." (3.81-83)

    Windrider's account of this portion of the Dragon King dream shows how being with his family has in fact always been part of his dream. His dream of being a dragon is interlaced with his dream of being reunited with Mother and Moon Shadow.

    "Dragons," Father went on, "protect their own brood." (5.65)

    From this quote we know that dragons do not only symbolize dreams and flight for Windrider; they also symbolize a sense of family. Father's yearning to be dragon is also a yearning to be with his family.

    "Perhaps…" Miss Whitlaw tapped a finger against her lips for a moment. "Perhaps the truth of the dragon lies somewhere in between the American and the Chinese versions. He is neither all-bad nor all-good, neither all-destruction nor all-kind. He is a creature particularly in tune with Nature, and so, like Nature, he can be very, very kind or very, very terrible. If you love him, you will accept what he is. Otherwise he will destroy you." (6.165)

    Miss Whitlaw uses the symbol of the dragon to subtly comfort Moon Shadow when Windrider is angry about his secret correspondence with the Wright brothers. Miss Whitlaw advises Moon Shadow to remember the dragon within his father and to love him whether he is kind or terrible.

    Mother offered more advice, and added that Father had been lucky that the man he had killed had had no close kinsmen, for that sort of thing had led to feuds in the past. (8.61)

    The Lees understand a sense of family loyalty when they act under the assumption that families will kill for their brethren.

    "It's time I thought of myself," Father asserted.

    Uncle was scandalized. "Supposing your father and mother had thought that? Or suppose their fathers and mothers had thought that before?"

    "That's cheating." Father sagged in his chair and rested his hands on his knees.
    "A superior man admits the truth," Uncle snapped. I could see Father was beat. (10.170-172)

    Uncle Bright Star guilt trips Windrider with a sense of family duty when Windrider voices his wish to pursue flight separate from the Company. Windrider agrees with Uncle Bright Star that families would end with his kind of self-centered thinking.

    "It's Mother who has to listen to [everyone in the village] laughing," I pointed out.

    "I wish I could spare her that." Father chewed the end of the brush's wooden handle. "We have the easy part. All we have to do is fly. She has to live in the village." (11.14-15)

    Moon Shadow and Father remind themselves and us readers that the family is not only suffering on the American front. We never hear of Mother's suffering.

    Somehow we managed to send some money home too. Once a month, on a Sunday, I walked down into Oakland and rode the trolley to the ferry depot, where I would join a lot of other Tang men – houseboys and other dayworkers. From there, we would ride the ferryboat over to San Francisco. Father never went, because he did not want to waste any of his free time. (11.17)

    Whereas Moon Shadow takes pains to send funds to his family in China, Windrider would consider the extra effort a distraction to his main dream of flying.

    As we expected, Grandmother called Father a fool who was a disgrace to the family, both the living and the dead, and so on. I was surprised that the schoolmaster's brush had not burned up, but she again warned us to watch out for the water in our new demon home, so I suppose she had not totally turned her back on us. As also could be expected, Mother was patient and understanding, saying what a truly wonderful thing it was to meet the Dragon King. (11.21)

    Grandmother throws some words of caution to Windrider, Uncle Bright Star-style, but both she and Mother express their unconditional support.

    I wish more than ever that I could be with you right now, for your father has undertaken no small task; but since I cannot be there, you must love him doubly hard. You must give him not only your own support, but also try to give him mine as well. (11.27)

    Mother expresses her love both for her son and her husband by requesting that Moon Shadow love Windrider, especially when the going gets tough.

    I'm not going to build another Dragonwings. When I was up there on it, I found myself wishing you were up there, and your mother with you. And I realized I couldn't have the two of them together: my family and flying. And just as I saw the hill coming at me, I realized that my family meant more to me than flying. It's enough for me to know that I can fly. (12.129)

    Ultimately, Windrider's vision for himself shifts so his family is the dragon side of him that he pursues, rather than the flying ability. He reminds us what Moon Shadow has been saying all along, that dragons are not merely creatures who fly, but have other admirable qualities too, like being protective of their families.

  • The Home

    [Father's] letters were certainly warm enough, filled with his worries about us and his longing to be back home. But a man cannot be a father in a letter. (1.33)

    Moon Shadow does not feel Windrider's presence as a father in their home until he can see him in the flesh.

    Suddenly, I felt as if I had come home. I can see the town of the Tang people even now in the late afternoon sun – not as it is now, full of souvenir shops and neon signs, but as it was then. The houses and the stores had all the right colors and shapes, for they had been built not by demons but by the Tang people. It looked much like the streets in Canton, the city in the Middle kingdom from which I had sailed. (2.31)

    In the beginning of the novel, Moon Shadow identifies home according to its physical appearance and likeness to the only home he has ever known in the Middle Kingdom. Home is a collection of familiarities to him.

    Upon my bed
    Lies the bright moonlight
    Like frost upon the earth.
    Lifting my eyes,
    I see the bright moon.
    Closing my eyes,
    I see home. (2.43-49)

    The poem that Lefty has drawn of the famous Chinese poet Li Po shows us that Windrider is not the only man in the Company who longs for a sense of home. In this poem, home is a sense that can be accessed in the mind.

    Father cupped his hands about his mouth. "Give it more string," he shouted to her. "Give it more string. It smells its home." (8.37)

    Windrider likens the sky as the glider model's home, raising questions of where he believes his home to be. Committed as he is to his destiny as a dragon, we understand that he is fascinated with flying machines because he too senses that his home is in the sky.

    Lefty let out a low whistle when he saw the window. "Surely it is the very jewel of heaven," he said. We did not need to translate that. Miss Whitlaw beamed. We wrapped it carefully in newspaper and then in a second layer of blankets before we put it in the wagon in the little nest. Miss Whitlaw turned then and took the door key out of her purse. "Oh, dear, I feel so silly" […] She walked quickly back up the path to her door and locked it. Then she put the key back into her purse. It was the last time she would be able to do that. (9.179-182)

    Through this moment with Miss Whitlaw, we see how soul-crushing the earthquake's damage was. The role of the earthquake in the novel functions as a further reminder of the instability of physical homes and the need to be able to create home wherever one is.

    It was kind of scary. One day we were living in a law-abiding community and the next day the city and the community had both dissolved, with every person for himself. It struck me that Father and I had probably walked by this house, feeling as safe as we could feel in a demon street, many times, and now here we were hiding behind what was left of it, trying to keep from getting shot. (10.6)

    Moon Shadow's sense of place and security is disrupted by the earthquake, suggesting that a sense of space can change too quickly for home to be dependent on spatial coordinates alone.

    Uncle planted his feet firmly on the ground and folded his arms across his chest. "I'm staying."

    Hand Clap planted his feet just as firmly. "Then I'm staying too," he announced.

    "So am I," Lefty said.

    "Yes, we'll all stay," Father said.

    Uncle glared around at all of us. He was not used to being disobeyed. He scratched his jaw then angrily for some time. Finally he grumbled. "Well, someone with sense better nursemaid the lot of you young rascals. Put my chair on the wagon, but mind you don't scratch it." (10.31-35)

    At first, Uncle refuses to leave the building he has called home for so long. It is not until all of his best friends stand with him that he realizes that the people, relationships, and sense of home he's developed in the building are more valuable than the building itself.

    The Tang people had tried to gather into a group. I saw some tents here and there – for the most part, old ones with patches on them, or tents improvised out of sheets. There was a particularly dazzling one with bright purple silk sheets. Father and I both recognized them as sheets that we used to pick up from a demon millionaire. I suppose Hand Clap had picked them up a few days ago and they had been cleaned but not returned. Out of some perverse pride, Uncle had told them to use those sheets for the tent. (10.38)

    Uncle Bright Star makes the most out of a bad situation by boldly using luxurious fabric when they create a temporary home space in Golden Gate Park. His action shows a sense of respect and propriety for any home he inhabits.

    Eventually I wound up running our household, or maybe our barnhold is a better word. Among other things, I planned our meals, washed our clothes, kept the barn as clean as I could under the circumstances, and oversaw the budget once Father showed me how to do it. That left Father all his free time to work on flying. (11.16)

    Moon Shadow takes on the role of homemaker in order for his father to pursue the dream. This could suggest that Moon Shadow and Father consider flying a contribution to homemaking. This could also suggest that Father does not consider the project of flying as related to that of homemaking and leaves the housework for Moon Shadow to do.

    "Houses don't mean much. It's the people inside them that are important," I said.

    Father grinned sardonically. "Yes, and you no sooner get to like those people than they're dead, or they move away. Like the Whitlaws." (10.132-133)

    Windrider bitterly reminds us that home may be where the heart is, but it still hard to lose places and people.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    It will go on after me, for this Company is an idea. It is a dream – a dream that is much older than you or I and only slightly younger than the world: Men must help one another in dangerous times and places. (2.59)

    For Uncle Bright Star, the Company is the dream to believe in and work for.

    But finally it was time for me to return to my mortal world. It was reluctantly that the Lord said good-bye to me and added, "We will save a place at the banquet table for you. You will be eating with us soon, though, if you just remember to watch for the tests and hold to the dragon-ness within that softskin body. Now fare you well." (3.85)

    Windrider finds strength in his everyday human life by holding on to the hope that he will one day return to a dragon's existence. This suggests that his dreams for the future can only be attained if he acts accordingly in the present.

    "Were you really going to bring Mother over here?"

    "It's only a dream of ours, Shadow," Father said gently. "Before I left home, your mother and I secretly agreed to do it could be managed; but I'm more likely to fly again in this life than to bring our mother over here."

    "But perhaps you will fly," I said. "What better test of your dragon-ness than if you could fly in a softskin body? And if you could do that hard task, Uncle would have to believe you were once a real dragon, and then he would respect you even more than he does and he would do what you say. Then you could bring Mother over." (4.97-99)

    In this excerpt, we see how Father's flying dream is really an extension of Moon Shadow's dream of having his parents and him together in one place. Could it be that Moon Shadow supports Father in hopes that his own dream will come true as a result?

    [Father] hung his head for the longest time, staring down at his hands. I could only think of some immortal who had suddenly woken one morning to find himself in a man's body and realized he was being punished. For the second time in my life, I made an important decision to be with him.

    "I want to fly too, Father," I said. (10.173-174)

    Moon Shadow stands with his dad when he senses that Uncle has discouraged him. It is only with Moon Shadow's support that Windrider believes in himself.

    Uncle looked at us, both hurt and confused. "Why?" he asked. "Why?"

    "It's something we both have to do," I tried to explain, but it was like trying to describe colors to a blind man.

    Uncle shoved his chair away from us and got up. "Get away from me," he said. (10.187-189)

    When Yep writes that "it was like trying to describe colors to a blind man," he suggests that faith is not something that one can teach or explain. All it takes for one to believe in someone else's dream is the decision to have faith in them.

    I was proud of Father for wanting to be a dragon again, and even prouder of the fact that he was now so close to achieving his ambition to fly. I was just sorry that we had not been able to combine his more lofty goals with the more ordinary dream of seeing Mother. (11.62)

    Moon Shadow hints at frustration with his father for holding his own ambitious dream over the shared family dream of being together.

    Then [Father] clapped his hand on my shoulder. "How about a cup of tea to warm our old bones?" he asked. Poor Black Dog: There was some beauty to life after all, even if it was only the beauty of hope. (11.157)

    After Black Dog steals the Lees' hard-earned money, Moon Shadow realizes that hope is priceless and makes any obstacle less threatening.

    I'm not going to build another Dragonwings. When I was up there on it, I found myself wishing you were up there, and your mother with you. And I realized I couldn't have the two of them together: my family and flying. And just as I saw the hill coming at me, I realized that my family meant more to me than flying. It's enough for me to know that I can fly. (12.129)

    Windrider's refocused dream shows how dreams can shift over time and experience. Moon Shadow was right with his instinct to trust his mother's patience with Father.

  • Race

    There was reason to worry, too, for just a few years ago, the demons had broken their own laws and turned away over twenty thousand of their former guests who had expected to be readmitted. This figure does not even reflect the large number of Tang men who could not get into the country for the first time. The demons, it seemed were determined to cut down on the number of Tang people living on the Golden Mountain. (1.38)

    Race and nationality unfairly factor into who is able to create a home in America. On an even more basic level, racial prejudice dictates who is able to feel like they belong in the Land of the Golden Mountain.

    [Grandfather] was a proud man who would take nonsense from nobody. One day shortly after he had arrived, some drunken demons had tried to cut off his queue. Grandfather could have worn a wig if his queue had been cut off. He would not have been the first "guest" of the demons who had to resort to one, but instead Grandfather had spat in their faces and busted a few heads, and before the whole thing was finished, he was swinging from a lamppost by some demon's clothesline. (4.13)

    Moon Shadow's family is already deeply affected by the consequences of racial unrest in America. Grandfather was lynched by people who acted violently in response to his queue, a characteristic of Tang people of the time.

    The tent flap was raised by a young demon officer. One of Miss Whitlaw's demon neighbors was pointing at us. "Come along, you two," the young officer said. "We're moving you out."

    "All of us?"
    Father asked incredulously.

    "Just YOU, Chinamen," the young officer said. "You sabe me?" (10.84-87)

    The Lees are kicked out of Golden Gate Park by city officials after the earthquake based solely on their looks. Despite the fact that the earthquake was a natural disaster that left most everyone homeless, the authorities chose to discriminate and treat the Tang people as less than other inhabitants.

    Father patted Miss Whitlaw on the shoulder. "It some misunderstanding. We fix," he lied, to make her feel better. It was a misunderstanding, but we would not be able to fix it. Nobody short of Heaven could fix it. (10.96)

    Even Windrider, a very good handyman, cannot singlehandedly solve the problem of racial anxiety. Moon Shadow is pessimistic that any person can do something about it.

    It was now rumored that the demon officials were going to make us rebuild the Tang people's town not in our original location but down at Hunter's Point; and yet every other ethnic group in the city was going to be allowed to return to its old homesite. (10.102)

    The Tang people are being treated differently here, through legally sanctioned discrimination against Chinese immigrants.

    "It's too bad," Father observed, "that you have to appeal to their sense of greed."

    "That's the way it is with demons," Uncle snapped.

    "That's the way it is with most men," Father said. (10.121-123)

    Though Uncle and some other characters in the book are quick to blame inequities on non-Chinese people, Windrider reminds us that no one is exempt from being responsible for injustices.

    [Moon Shadow and Mother] could not go to live with [Father] for two reasons. For one thing, the white demons would not let wives join their husbands on the Golden Mountain because they did not want us settling there permanently. And for another thing, our own clans discouraged wives from leaving because it would mean as end to the money the husbands sent home to their families – money which was then spent in the Middle Kingdom. (1.4)

    Moon Shadow's family cannot easily be together in America because of discriminatory laws limiting Chinese immigration. The belief was that allowing whole families to immigrate would lead to Chinese people settling and remaining in America for the long haul. Restrictive immigration laws were not only racially charged from the American front, but also economically charged from the Chinese government's perspective.

  • Foreignness and 'The Other'

    It is much trickier to deal with a demon of the Middle Kingdom than an American devil, because you always know that the American devil means you harm. (1.35)

    Showing how racism is not only a one-sided problem, Moon Shadow admits his preconceptions of Americans.

    There was reason to worry, too, for just a few years ago, the demons had broken their own laws and turned away over twenty thousand of their former guests who had expected to be readmitted. This figure does not even reflect the large number of Tang men who could not get into the country for the first time. The demons, it seemed were determined to cut down on the number of Tang people living on the Golden Mountain. (1.38)

    Fear of Chinese people taking over American jobs and resources had a direct effect upon the laws enforced to limit Chinese immigration.

    He was my father and yet he was a stranger to me. I had never seen him.
    I thought to myself, How can we ever speak to one another? He's as strange to me as a demon. (1.47-48)

    Moon Shadow is literally foreign to his own father, who he's never met before. This complicates what it means for Moon Shadow to arrive in America, a foreign land, to live with a parent who is a stranger to him. Even the presumably familiar is alien to Moon Shadow when he first arrives in America.

    The founder [of the Company] had written: "The three virtues of the Stranger are to be silent, to be cunning, but above all to be invisible." (2.51)

    The Company's mantra that Uncle upholds instructs its members to be invisible in the foreign land. And yet, how does this advice prove both difficult and damaging?

    I stared at the brick as it slid across the clean, worn, wooden floor, and at the glass that scattered about my feet. Outside I could hear jeers and shouts. For one moment I glimpsed howling, sweating, red-and-white faces, distorted into hideous masks of hatred and cruelty, a sea of demon heads that bobbed restlessly outside our store. I could not understand the words they were growling out, but their intention was plain. They wanted to burn and loot and hurt. Looking into that huge mass of faces was like looking into the ugliest depths of the human soul. (2.89)

    Moon Shadow's first experience of a group of supposed demons is after this hate crime on his first night in America. This moment foreshadows the problems he will face when it comes to groups of non-Chinese people, yet belies the friendships that will develop between Moon Shadow and individuals like Miss Whitlaw and Robin.

    Because a demon can help or harm you, there is no way of telling if a demon might be testing you before he will reward you or whether he is trying to trick you. (4.34)

    Moon Shadow's assessment of demons when Father and he encounter Mr. Alger is similar to the way he speaks of dragons. To him, demons are largely supernatural creatures before he actually speaks with some (the Whitlaws) and befriends them.

    I think [Black Dog] had lived so long in this land of the demons that his mind had become poisoned and he begun to think like a demon and to despise the Tang people around him. Maybe when he had first begun to take dope, he had just meant to get away from his conflicts; but after a while, taking dope had become an end in itself. (5.12)

    Moon Shadow offers the provocative theory that Black Dog is down such a dark path because he not only despises demon people but also Tang people for allowing themselves to be dominated by the Americans. This internalized sense of self-loathing is a serious problem that Black Dog's addictive lifestyle only worsens.

    I feel like I'd just woken from some long dream. I can follow the dragons' ways better among the demons than among the Tang people. (5.126)

    Windrider reveals that he feels less foreign as a dragon with the non-Tang people than with the Tang people.

    [..T]he boys above [Jack] began to make mock Tang-people sounds – sounds like "Wing-Duck-So-Long" and "Wun-Long-Hop" in rising and falling voices. I could have bitten off my tongue. But I stood there, staring at them, not wanting to let them chase me away. I felt something soft and wet hit my leg. It was an old tomato. They began to throw bits and pieces of garbage at me. Still I stood there. (6.48)

    Moon Shadow is made to feel different when the neighborhood boys ridicule his spoken Chinese and show their disrespect by throwing garbage at him.

  • The Supernatural

    There are some dragons that delight in harming other creatures, even their own kin. But the Dragon King himself is by and large a good creature who rules over all reptiles and the animals who live in the sea, and some say he is the head of all the other animals. The Dragon King is one creature you stay friends with, since he can cause earthquakes as well as floods and droughts. To have him personally tell you a story is quite an honor. (3.22)

    Moon Shadow's belief in dragons disrupts a more boring understanding of reality, suggesting even that the Dragon King provoked the disastrous earthquake.

    Once, as a dragon, you could cut the small shapes of butterflies and birds out of paper and make them come to life. Now as a softskin you can only make the things called kites – that skill is only a remnant of your old powers. (3.41)

    Windrider believes that his skill with flying machines as a human is a remnant of his powerful skills as a dragon healer and creator.

    "I don't know. I never met [a dragon.]" [Robin] said that almost as a dare to me, but I did not back down.

    "How you know? They can be tiny, tiny as flea. Maybe you hear voice speak to you from nowhere. That them as tiny, tiny as ant, only you no see. Or maybe take shape of men." (6.96)

    Moon Shadow teaches Robin that there is more truth and reality than the eye can see.

    "But you no believe in the Stove King."

    "Of course not,"
    she snapped. She squirmed in her seat. "But it might make you feel better."

    I could see that she really wanted to make herself feel better. No sense taking chances with the supernatural, and so on. I could tell her train of thought because I sometimes carried the little cross she had given me in my pocket – just as insurance. I mean, maybe American demons could be scared off by American charms. (9.6)

    Moon Shadow and Robin influence one another with their multiple beliefs and faiths, superstitious or not, suggesting that faith is contagious.

    Moon Shadow, you once asked me who or what caused the earthquake. I don't know. It could have been the gods, or dragons, or demons, or it could have simply been a natural event. It doesn't matter, supernatural or natural; it means the same. This life is too short to spend it pursuing little things. I have to do what I know I can and must do. (10.166)

    Windrider's belief in the supernatural empowers him to pursue his dreams in the present, more mundane life.

    And what can I say of the jeweled dragon palaces or of the undersea gardens? They had fountains, not of water but of air, among other wonders. I could go on for days and days about everything I saw in this palace, but the meanest rooms there, which were assigned to the scrubdragons, were worthy of human emperors. (3.19)

    Windrider offers this supernatural parallel universe, challenging common conceptions of reality and knowledge.

    "I believe you were there, Father." I touched his arm shyly. "Something as beautiful as that has to be true."

    Father smiled in our newfound understanding. "Then we must both be as true as dragons can be and must not try to put out the sun." (3.88-89)

    Early in their relationship, Moon Shadow and Windrider bond over their shared belief in the supernatural.

    First of all, I knew [Father] was an unusual man when I married him, but I had no idea he had once been the physician to the Dragon King himself. I do not care what the others say, I am bursting with pride right now. (11.26).

    Mother's unwavering support of Windrider is an example of the supernatural not seeming that much of a stretch. It is only a matter of perspective and imagination.

    The fog had completely covered San Francisco now and was rolling over the bay toward Oakland. It was as if the world below us were slowly fading away like the dream it was, and only we existed now on a tiny island of reality here on this hilltop.
    "Maybe this is the final test in this life," I suggested hopefully. (11.136-137).

    After Black Dog steals the money for Dragonwings' premiere and the Lees' rent, remembering the Dragon King dream gives Moon Shadow a sense of faith and greater purpose.

  • Fear

    I was afraid of the Golden Mountain, and yet my father, who lived there, wanted me to join him. I only knew that there was a certain rightness in life – the feeling you got when you did something the way you knew you should. I owed it to Father to obey him in everything – even if it meant going to such a fearful place as the Golden Mountain. (1.34)

    Though Moon Shadow is afraid of all the unknowns of the Land of the Golden Mountain, his larger sense of duty to family extinguishes his fears.

    "Trust to your hands and do not think about what you are doing." The Dragon King added, "And do not fear. No harm will come to you if you fail. I called you here as my old friend." (3.43)

    The Dragon King's mandate to Windrider fortifies him with a sense of impossible failure. In this way, belief in the supernatural empowers Windrider with a sense of purpose and confidence.

    "These are wings, if you have the courage to use them," the Lord said.
    I looked dubiously at the wings. They seemed fragile things. But I was ashamed to let the Lord see me frightened after all the things he had said about the former me. (3.54-55)

    The Dragon King's self-assured faith in Windrider makes him feel silly for ever doubting himself.

    Some demon boys were out in the street. They stooped as if to pick up things to throw, and Father whispered to me to sit up straight and not show I was afraid. The demon boys called out some things, but we ignored them until we had passed them by. A rock whizzed by my ear and hit Red Rabbit in the side. He snorted, but plodded on as steadily as before. (4.33)

    Windrider instills a sense of bravado, or false courage, in Moon Shadow that paves the way to actual courage.

    I'd rather lose both [Moon Shadow and Windrider] than see you bring your poor mother over here. What kind of place is this for her when we're afraid to set foot outside our own door? (4.92)

    Uncle Bright Star's comment shows that fear for Mother's well being is what keeps him from signing off on her immigration.

    Miss Whitlaw leaned over and spoke gently. "How would you feel if you were plunked right down in China in a small village with almost no hope of going back? Wouldn't you be scared?"

    "Well, yes,"
    the demon girl admitted reluctantly. Then she looked at me. "But I'd listen to some Chinaman who told me there wasn't anything in the village pump or anything near it that could hurt me." (6.62-63)

    Early on we see Miss Whitlaw flex her empathy and Robin's wish to alleviate fear in Moon Shadow.

    She went on breaking pea pods into the pot. "But now you take that Jack," she said. "You know him. He's the boy with the brown hair and the freckles. Well, he's the biggest boy in our school, and yet I happen to know personally from Maisie, his sister, that he'd rather die than let anyone know he was afraid of being hit in the nose, 'cause he's scared of the sight of blood – especially his." (8.84)

    Robin dispels Moon Shadow's fear of Jack by showing that most people, including Jack, are afraid of something.

    I don't think the demons were necessarily bad for not wanting to help others. They might have been scared, or so shocked they could not really know how selfish they were being. (9.95)

    Moon Shadow acknowledges how powerful a force fear is, and how it can momentarily turn a person into someone they usually are not.

  • Principles

    "But the demons will beat Moon Shadow," Mother protested.

    "They don't do that so much anymore." Hand Clap carefully wiped his sticky fingers on his tunic sleeve. "And they wouldn't do it to a child. Even the demons have some principles." (1.27-28)

    Early in the book, Yep shows that principles are culturally relative but existent in everyone.

    [...F]or Grandfather, having a queue was part of being a Tang man. He would as soon lose his nose as his queue. But even if he had been a revolutionary who knew what the queue really meant and hated the thought of wearing it, there was still the principle of the matter." (4.14)

    Moon Shadow understands Grandfather's fight to death in the name of honor and dignity of self. Even if Grandfather had thought his queue was silly, there's a difference between him doing something about it and others doing something about it through violence. Moon Shadow agrees that this difference is worth dying for.

    "Here, John." The demon unbuttoned his coat and reached into his pants pocket, but father shook his head.

    "No tip. Happy just to look at horseless."

    The demon stopped and studied Father as you might look at a dog that had suddenly said he was going to the opera. "Well, I'll be damned," he said. He reached into a pocket of his waistcoat and took out a card, and handed it to Father with a flourish. "I can use honest handymen like you. You come around anytime, you sabe me?" (4.45-47)

    Windrider demonstrates his earnest fascination with machines and his willingness to help beyond financial gain. This ends up coming in handy, too, when he finds work with Mr. Alger.

    Black Dog looked at me intently. "Why shouldn't we get some pleasure in this life? Why later? Why not now?"

    "Because we don't owe things just to ourselves. There are others." (5.32-33)

    Yep contrasts Black Dog's priority of instant gratification to Moon Shadow's more humble approach to life.

    "No," Father let out his breath in a rush. "No. I'm sick of having to deal with thieves and pimps and pushers. I'm sick of having to scrape and bow to men who live off the misery of their brothers and sisters. […] Don't you see? We're all tainted by it. As long as we keep quiet and let it go on, we're as bad as they are. It eats at them; it eats at us." (5.58-60)

    In a revolutionary spirit, Windrider challenges what it means to be a superior person when there are a lot of corrupt institutions are work.

    Your mother was always polite to everyone. She always said that you never knew if that person might have been some king or queen in a former life. (6.25)

    Windrider advises Moon Shadow to heed his mother's advice to treat everyone as though they were royalty.

    She pressed her lips together for a moment, as if she were deciding something. "We must get those people out."

    "It would take four of us weeks to clear tunnels for them,"
    Father said.

    "We'll draft help. After all, we were put on this earth to help one another," Miss Whitlaw said. (9.62-64)

    Miss Whitlaw shows her magnanimous instinct to always think of others in the destruction after the earthquake.

    It was a wonder to watch Miss Whitlaw sail up the block and gather people behind her like a hen collecting her chicks. In her gentlest but firmest way, she gathered up the surviving demons and set them in work crews to clearing the mounds from which people were calling.

    Watching her with open admiration, Father shook his head. "Now just look at her." For myself, I could not help thinking that she had missed her vocation as a shanghaier. (9.87-88)

    Miss Whitlaw's persistence in looking out for others' needs is an inspiration for Moon Shadow, who assists his father without resentment in a way that would make Miss Whitlaw proud.

    "There's a whole city in ruins, and more of his kind willing to take advantage of others' misery," he explained. He touched the club in his belt. "But there's no helping other people's souls. We can only try to help the people trapped inside the rubble." (9.125)

    Windrider is disappointed at healthy civilians who do not join the effort to help fellow survivors. He reflects that he can only control what he chooses to do.

    By that Friday, we had dwindled from some twenty-five thousand of us to only a few hundred. Many Tang people had just got disgusted and left for points east, south, and north, where you weren't herded around like a flock of sheep by a shepherd who could not make up his mind. But the few hundred who stayed were the hard core of the Tang people – the stubbornest, orneriest individuals, who were getting tired of being pushed around. Someone had to stand firm. (10.103)

    Though it is exhausting and demeaning, many of the Tang people continue to march out of protest of their maltreatment.